Should scientific literacy be part of the literacy package?


Here is an excellent essay from Dr Cormac O’Raifeartaigh, an Irish physicist to convince you:

First, many challenges facing modern society involve a basic understanding of science. Issues such as the safety of commercial nuclear power, the ethics of embryonic stem-cell research, or action on greenhouse gas emissions all demand a basic knowledge of scientific concepts, and how scientific facts are established. This latter is the more important point – an understanding of the built-in scepticism of the scientific method builds confidence in scientific discovery.

Instead, public discourse on important scientific issues is often dominated by media commentary that has little idea of the methods of science, and that fails to distinguish between informed and uninformed opinion (not to mention vested interests). For example, much of the current “debate” concerning the reality of human-induced global warming occurs not within science, but in the media – a public scepticism that takes little account of the robustness of modern scientific enquiry.

So what is the solution? I suspect the answer lies in education. It is striking that when we talk of literacy, we mean a mastery of reading, writing and arithmetic. It could be argued that a basic knowledge of science should also be part of the package – and is about 300 years overdue.


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